We’re days away from the UK’s third referendum in just over five years. The first referendum, on our voting system, was barely met with disdain, let alone any real views or debate. The second, on Scottish independence, consumed political debate for two years in the lead-up to it, and still looms in some corners.
This one, on whether the UK should remain a part of the European Union, or leave, sits somewhere between the two. For people who believe in the European project, it’s met with disdain, but for those who want to leave the EU, it’s a fiery subject.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this referendum is that, like in 2011’s AV referendum, very few people are enthusiastic about their chosen option. Just like most people who wanted change in our electoral system didn’t really want AV (they wanted STV, for the mostpart), a large number of people supporting Remain in this campaign struggle to be enthusiastic because Europe isn’t really what they want it to be either. In some regards, it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice.
People regularly ask my opinion on the matter (more fool them!) so here are some of my thoughts.
It’s not about the Tories
First and foremost, this is not a referendum on the Conservative Party. It’s not about whether you prefer David Cameron and George Osborne or Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (which is good news for everyone, I think). We need to look past the media headlines, because this is a decision that will affect not just the next five years, but possibly the next twenty-five. This is about how we, the British people, view our country, our standing in the world, and our approach to the future.
Making a statement
The decision we make on Thursday will inevitably have consequences in the way our country is seen by people outside the UK, and their governments. If we vote to Remain, the other member states of the EU will read that as acceptance of the general direction of the EU. If we vote to Leave, we will likely be seen as isolationist. Whether either of those scenarios appeals to you is a moot point – that’s the position we’re in by holding a referendum, and that’s how people outside the UK will see it.
The bigger picture
If we do choose to Leave, eurosceptic movements in other countries may be emboldened. The obvious candidates are Sweden and Denmark. In some ways, we could have an opportunity to form a northern European bloc of some kind, which would be an interesting prospect!
I think it unlikely the UK wouldn’t be followed by other countries. This could result in some very big changes to the EU, but may also result in a long period of instability. This could be, in the short- to medium-term, bad economically for Europe, albeit beneficial in the longer-term. Politically, NATO is a far more important institution for Europe’s stability, especially when looking further east.
The economic argument
The economic argument is more complex than any politician will openly say. The shock! But to me, it’s a trade-off. In my mind, staying in the EU is definitely beneficial in the short-term. If we vote to Remain, the Pound and stock markets will surely rally, as things will basically return to normal. The future will be as predictable as it was six months ago. Businesses won’t leave the UK unless they had plans to do so already. Investment will be made in the knowledge of existing rules.
Were we to leave, uncertainty could lead to all sorts of effects. If investment goes down, taxes receipts might go down. Tax rises might follow. The government might come under serious pressure. Inflation could be quite unpredictable. Of course, it’s hard to know which of these would happen and to what extent, and who would win or lose, but one thing it would surely have an immediate effect on is pensions invested in shares.
But should that really affect how we vote this week?
If this referendum will affect the UK for a generation, we really should be basing our view of economics on the whole of that period. Would a potential recession last for twenty-five years? No. Would any short-term loss of GDP be recoverable in the longer-term? Yes. Do you trust the people on either side have a sound economic plan? Not so easy to answer that one, is it?!
It’s not racist to talk about immigration
People who support Leave seem to think people on the Remain side want open borders. People on the Remain side seem to think that controlling immigration is racist. Neither is an accurate picture.
There is, of course, freedom of movement across the EU, plus a few other non-EU countries.By pulling out of the EU, we can pull out of existing arrangements over freedom of movement. This would mean we could place a limit on people from the EU coming to live in the UK. EU countries might then place similar restrictions on British citizens. Is this something we would be willing to accept?
Furthermore, freedom of movement would likely be a precondition of any deals we make with the EU. It’s kind of the Leave campaign to point out Canada don’t have to sign up to freedom of movement, but Canada is not on Europe’s doorstep either!
It’s also worth pointing out that refugees from non-EU countries do not have the right to come to the UK just because they claim asylum in an EU country. There may be moral arguments for the UK to take more refugees, but that’s another argument.
On the other side, it is not racist to want to place limits on immigration. Immigration undoubtedly has an impact on the UK. Some of it is positive – workers for the NHS, for instance (and savings on training them). However, there are other consequences, such as pressure on house prices. Could everyone in the world come to live in the UK? No. No-one would disagree on that, surely? So the question to ask is, how many people would be too many? And what controls should be in place to control who makes up the numbers that are then deemed to be sustainable?
A points system for immigration does two things. First, it sets a limit on the numbers of people who can enter a country. Secondly, it provides a (hopefully) objective system by which people can be assessed on merit. The alternative is a first-come, first-served system. If that’s what you support, that’s fair enough, but short of accepting uncontrolled immigration, you need a system in place to control immigration in some way.
(Some of) the EU debate is a mirage
The EU debate is often an easy way to avoid taking responsibility for the failures of our own governments. For instance, immigration is often blamed for stealing people’s jobs. But there are two problems with this. First, sometimes British people don’t take those jobs. Job centres do not appear to be set up to effectively channel people into work. Perhaps that’s as much an issue as immigration? Second, in some cases it’s because jobs require expertise which is not available in sufficient quantities in the UK. This is an issue with education and training, rather than immigration per se. Why are so many of the healthcare workers from outside the UK? Perhaps we don’t have enough training places available…
Sometimes arguments just cover up other issues, and you can’t always rely on the other side to flag it.
Whatever you do, vote
Especially if you’re a young person. The odds are the result will affect you for longer!